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Witness Statement of Mahmoud Salehi

Witness Statement of Mahmoud Salehi

This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Mahmoud Salehi. There are 31paragraphs in the statement. The views and opinions of the witness expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

 

 

 

 

Name:                                      Mahmoud Salehi

Place of Birth:                          Ssqez, Iran 

Date of Birth:                           1962 

Occupation:                             Labor Activist

 

Interviewing Organization:   Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview:                    June 29, 2017

Interviewer:                             IHRDC Staff

 

Witness Statement

 

Background

  1. I entered the work force at the age of six. For the last forty years I have been active in the labor movement.

 

  1. The working class is being exploited on a daily basis. This is very clear. Even during the last regime, when we worked as youngsters, we felt the exploitation but had no idea how to resist or fight it. Since it was illegal to organize labor unions during the Pahlavi regime, we had no way to unite against employers. Many syndicated unions were shut down. The only ones allowed to operate were those sanctioned by the government whose leaders would toe the regime’s line. Every time government officials shut down the bakers’ union -- I am a baker myself -- we resisted. This went on until the [Islamic] Revolution occurred. The bakers were the first to organize their union in Saqez, after which they officially started their activities. I was 16 at the time. I became a member of the union and regularly attended union meetings.

 

  1. So as soon as the Revolution took place workers in the bakery industry syndicated their union.  I was a member. We had regular meetings during which we were told about our rights as workers. We constantly received training, and this is how we gained insight into how a capitalist society exploits the working class. We came to realize that the hardworking majority ends up being exploited by the rich corporate minority and is forced to subsist on minimum income.

 

History of Arrests

  1. During the 39 or 40 years since the Revolution I have been continuously pursued. I was interrogated and incarcerated a myriad of times. Even as we speak, I am under an order to turn myself in by tomorrow to receive a new prison sentence. The trial court sentenced me to nine years’ imprisonment.[1] It is not yet clear whether this sentence will be increased or decreased by the Court of Appeals.  All because of my labor movement activism!  I, of course, realize that the working class all over the capitalist world is being exploited.

 

  1. My first arrest was in 1980. And again in 1981, 82, 84 and 86. I was arrested seven times [in total]. In 1980 I was detained on the charge of having contacts with opposition groups. I was arrested and spent some time in prison. They detained me in places not legally assigned as prisons. By 1986 this condition changed and from then on I was detained in supposedly legal prisons. Up to 1986 I was incarcerated seven times in illegal prisons. [On these occasions] I was kept in a detention center and released after a period of time. They did not give me a sentence. In fact, up to 1986 detainees were either executed or released.

 

  1. In those days I had some connection with Kurdish political groups. I stopped all contact with them after 1988.

 

  1. It was never clear whether I was tried or not. Why? Because I never went to court. Whenever I was arrested, I’d be blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to a room where a man would interrogate me. I only heard this person. I never saw or touched anything. I did not know if he was a judge, an official with the Ministry of Justice, or just one of the guards who came to see me every night just to watch my scared blindfolded face in glee. 

 

  1. These detentions took place in Oroumieh, Mahabad, Naqadeh, Sardasht and other cities in Iran. My city of residence was Saqez, a small under-privileged town in Iran. This is why us workers would learn our trade in Saqez and then move to other cities to find work.

 

  1. I was arrested again in 1994.  And again, I was detained in an unofficial prison. My charge was the same as before: having ties with opposition parties. But no record of my incarceration was kept. In 1998 I was arrested again for the same charge. I was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment. I was arrested again in 2004 and imprisoned for three years until my release in 2007. And now, I have been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. I have no idea what the Court of Appeals will decide about my fate.  I have been ordered to turn myself in tomorrow, June 30, 2017, to find out how much more imprisonment I must endure.

 

10.  From the beginning of the Revolution to this day, I have spent eight years in prison.

 

Imprisonments due to My Labor Activism

 

11.  In 2005 a number of labor activists and I worked together to form the Coordinating Committee to Form Labor Organizations in Iran. We founded this Coordinating Committee in accordance to government regulations and based on article 131 of the Iranian Labor Code. We had a General Assembly at which we elected board members. In accordance with the Committee’s guidelines, we presented all the elected members’ names and information to the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Intelligence (MOI). Our goal was to register our newly-founded group with the government.  Not only did they not register our group, they charged us with criminal activities. From 2006 on, they arrested a number of our Committee members on a daily basis. We have 120 in our membership and every year 12 or 13 of us would be incarcerated a minimum of two or three years. That’s how I was imprisoned for two and a half years.

 

12.  In 2011 we held a general assembly in Karaj. Some 60 of us were arrested. We had even asked for a permit to assemble. Instead of getting a permit, we were arrested. They kept us in detention for 24 hours before they released us. But then they put us on trial. Three friends from Mahabad each got two years in prison. Five from Bukan each received two and half years of prison.

 

13.  For a long time they put pressure on us to resign from the Committee. They officially ordered us to resign. They gave us years to do it, but confronted with our defiance, they sent our files to court for trial.

 

14.  At our interrogations they tried to force us to resign. And I always told my interrogators: “Dear ones, if we were doing something illegal or if we were colluding illegally, we would have to do it in secret. But nothing we have done has been underground. We held an official general assembly. We announced its members’ names, occupations and places of residence to the Ministry asking to be registered. How is this an illegal organization? Why have they not officially registered us?”

 

15.  However, their claim was that we formed an opposition party. But our organization was only a labor union. Actually, it is only a committee comprised of a number of labor activists whose job it is to help and give guidance to newly-formed unions.   Unfortunately, they would have none of it and continued pressuring us to resign. They threatened to put us on trial. To prove it, those who did resign did not get a court hearing. Those of us who refused to resign went to court and were subsequently sentenced to jail.

 

16.  My interrogations took place first in Karaj, then in Saqez and finally at the detention center of the Kurdistan Province MOI detention center [in Sanandaj].

 

My Last Arrest

 

17.  I was arrested in my own house in Saqez on April 28, 2015. MOI agents raided our house and confiscated everything in the house. They have not returned any of it to this day. They took me to Sanandaj. I have a written statement about this. They took me to Abu Ghraib Prison situated in the center of the city. Abu Ghraib is famous for being one of the worst prisons in the world.  It is way up there with Guantanamo Bay. No, it is worse. They’ve built a detention center in the middle of Sanandaj with not even a drop of clean water to drink.  I was not in good health and all the security agents knew this. I was on dialysis medication. The day I was officially charged, I made it clear to the court that I needed my medication to survive. They kept me from taking my medication for 32 hours and my blood pressure skyrocketed. I had nosebleeds and then my kidneys gave in. Since that day I have to go to the hospital for dialysis twice a week. I’ve lost both my kidneys.

 

18.  The judge came into the detention center to inform me that I was charged with having contacts with an Iranian Kurdish party Tehran. I did not accept this charge. Then he insisted that I formed the Coordinating Committee to Form Labor Organizations. My charge was membership in opposition groups [through] founding the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organizations.

 

19.  My family told me that when they went to the MOI Office in Saqez they were told that my arrest order had come from Tehran and that the Saqez office was just following orders. The Tehran office had sent the order to Sanandaj and they had sent it to Saqez.  They arrested me in Saqez and then sent me to the MOI office in Sanandaj. The officials even claimed that the interrogators had come from the Tehran office.

 

Interrogation

 

20.  Originally, I was supposed to be under interrogation for 15 days. The first week went by without interrogation. The questioning began and was completed during the second week. Despite this fact, they kept me in detention for another 15 days. There was no [new] interrogation during the second two weeks. I mean, they just repeated the same questions over and over. [I believe] They were keeping me there in order for my illness to get worse. Even though their interrogation was completed they extended my second two-week detention, during which my kidneys stopped working. One night at 11 pm, as I was being questioned, I fell on the chair. My kidneys had stopped functioning. In the morning they took me to the hospital for dialysis. I was there for a few days and then I was released on bail.

 

21.  As a rule, all they did during interrogation was to repeat the same questions over and over again. Since we live in Kurdistan where there exists a(n) [opposition] force called Peshmerga, they kept questioning me on the same issue. They make up charges as they go on. They have nothing new. Nothing worth exploring. They keep repeating the same things. They label everyone who complains, no matter who it is. Even if a Revolutionary Guard member complains about something, they label him too. I am, of course, no exception. They charge you with whatever crime they please.

 

Trial

 

22.  I went to the Appeals Court where three judges presided. The court summons indicated that Kurdistan Province Prosecutor was the plaintiff. Well then if the plaintiff is the prosecutor, why isn’t he or his representative present? I asked the court, what is the prosecutor’s claim against me and why is he not here? The judge ordered me to listen to what he had to tell me and proceeded to say: “You were incarcerated 30 years ago, in 1988. You completed your sentence. On February 11 when you were being released they asked you to take a placard and go to the streets with other inmates.[2] Your response was that you are not a Basiji[3] and you refused to take the placard. Is this true?” I said, “Yes it’s true. I am not a Basij. I was just a prisoner who had completed his sentence and had to be released. Why would I go to the streets with the placard?” Why is it that three Appeals Court judges bring up something that happened 30 years ago?”

 

23.  The trial court proceedings took place in two hearings at Branch 1 of the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court. It was in August 2015. The appellate trial took place at Branch 4 of the Kurdistan Province Court of Appeals. This was in March 2017. I had not asked for a lawyer because I had not committed any crime. I honestly had done nothing wrong. I was sitting in my home, not doing much. Actually [at the time], due to my health issues, I was not even active in the Committee that I had founded. I am always home. I’m home-bound because of my ill health.

 

24.  I wrote and posted on the internet all that had happened during my preliminary court. I wanted everyone to know what kind of questions I was asked by the judges.  Like questions I was asked about my connection to the labor movements in Sistan and Balouchistan or Ahvaz. They accuse me of having illegal activities. But none of what I did was illegal.

 

25.  At the Court of Appeals I laid 15 court orders in front of the judge and said to him: “How can you say that what I did was illegal?! I have these court orders that indicate that employers have violated the rights of their workers. I went to the Ministry of Justice, to the Board of Inquiry[4], to the Disputes Board[5], and I secured rulings against the employers. I have court orders regarding these violations. Is what I did not legal?” The judge agreed that it was legal. “So”, I said, “why is it that you accuse me of illegal activities? I’ve gone to court, to the Disputes Board. I’ve been to the Board of Inquiry, and I obtained justice for workers who I represented. There is abundant proof that these workers have been treated unjustly. I obtained judicial order regarding this. Now I’m told that I shouldn’t have involved myself. I’m told that the condition of the workers is none of my business. Why are you representing the working class, they would tell me.  Who gave you permission to do this? Whereas I used to be a member of the Arbitration Board myself. For many years I was the workers’ representative in both Saqez and Baneh.”

 

26.  At the Court of Appeals I was asked: “Why are you defending the working class?” I responded that if defending the rights of the working class is a crime, then I’m guilty and you should put this in writing. This conversation with the judge took over an hour. Then he said: “What is your request from the court?” To which I responded: “Since I have not committed any crime, I have no request. I will not ask for pardon or anything else. I am only doing my job. This is my duty. As a human being I have the right to defend the downtrodden in this society. I have not come here to beg you for freedom. I will not ask for anything for myself. I am here to ask you as to why 40% of workers in this country are unemployed. I defend those who cannot feed themselves. I defend those who have no means of livelihood.  I defend those who are not able to send their children to school due to lack of means. I defend those whose families are distraught and whose homes are broken. This is my claim. If this is a crime, then put it writing!”

 

27.  They accuse me of helping the families of prisoners, of raising funds for them.  This is my duty. You have thrown a man in jail for 10 years. What is his family to do? They are drifting. How can my conscience allow me to do nothing? How can I be happy living in my own house, while my neighbor, whose father is incarcerated, has nothing to live on? So, this is my charge? That I help families of prisoners?

 

28.  Or I am accused of organizing a May Day event in 1983 in the city of Mahabad. So what? So I did organize a May Day event in 1983.  Is this a crime? According to article 63 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Labor Code workers should get a paid day off on May Day.  And we honored the article. Besides, what does what I did in 1983 have anything to do with the year 2017? These were all a bunch of bogus charges with which the detainees were charged.

 

29.  I was sentenced to nine years in prison. They summoned me to court. I appeared in court. They presented me with the court opinion on my case and asked me to read it, after which they asked if I wanted to appeal it. I said: “Of course I do! I’m not a piece of nothing for you to trample on. Of course, I’d like to appeal giving away nine years of my life.” They refused to give me a copy of the court opinion. They did not give me the court opinion based on which I was supposed to write my appeal brief. They just gave me the order number and said: “Use this number to appeal the sentence in writing.” I replied: “My dear sir, I have been given a nine-year prison sentence, I have to have the order in my hand to see what it says so that I could defend myself accordingly!” I even went to the Court of Appeals with nothing in my hand. They only sent a summons to the person who had posted my bail and told him to turn me in by June 30, 2017 so that I could serve my sentence.  I wasn’t given anything. No summons, no court opinion, nothing! I did not receive a thing.

 

30.  My bail was 100 million toumans, which we did not have.[6] Besides, I was really sick. So, a teacher agreed to take care of the bail money. He gave them his paystub. I am afraid that this will become another source of grief. Who knows, tomorrow they might cut off his wages [for posting my bail].

 

31.  Now at this point, it is not clear whether the Court of Appeals has approved or rejected my [nine-year] sentence, or whether they decided to give me a longer sentence. We have received no news. We have no court opinion. They only sent the summons on June 2, 2017, to the person who posted bail on my behalf. I refuse to go. If they want me there, they should come, arrest me, take me there and give me my sentence. I will abide by their order, but I will not go there by my own volition.

 

 

 



[1] On appeal Salehi’s sentence was reduced to one year in prison.

[2] February 11 marks the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  Events commemorating the 1979 revolution are usually held on this day.

[3] The term Basij refers to a volunteer paramilitary organization that was formed during the Iran-Iraq war. Members of the Basij often enforce the Iranian government’s morality code. Also known as “plainclothes agents,” some Basij members take part in suppression of anti-government protests.

[4] Under Iran’s Labor Code the Board of Inquiry is comprised of one representative of the Ministry of Labor; one representative of the workers to be selected and appointed by the Provincial Coordination Council of the Islamic Labor Councils; one representative of the managers of industries, to be selected by the Provincial Centre of Employers' Guild Societies.  The Board of Inquiry is the penultimate body charged with resolving labor disputes under the Labor Code.

[5] The Disputes Board is the body which has the final say in labor disputes under Iran’s Labor Code. Its membership is comprised of ­three workers' representatives, to be chosen by the Coordination Centre of the Islamic Labor Councils of the province, or by the Centre of Workers' Guild Societies or by the Assembly of Workers' Representatives of the units of the region; three employers' representatives to be chosen by managers of the units in the region; and three government representatives, namely the Director­General of Labor and Social Affairs, the Governor, and the Chief of the Justice Department of the locality or their representatives.

[6] This amount approximately equals $26,406 per the exchange rate in 2017.

 

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